For the second year in a row, Ethiopia ranks as number two on Watchlist – making it one of the top countries most at risk of worsening humanitarian need in 2023. 

Prolonged drought in the southeast of the country, continued economic stresses, and the impact of conflict in northern Ethiopia, Oromia and elsewhere, are all exacerbating needs for millions of people. Here's what you need to know about the ongoing emergency.

Ethiopia is heading toward its sixth consecutive failed rainy season, which threatens to prolong a drought already affecting over 30 million people. At the same time, it is grappling with the impact of various conflicts across the country, particularly in the Oromia, Afar, and Benishangul-Gumuz regions. This is hampering humanitarian organizations’ ability to reach crisis-affected communities with critical support.

Episodic fighting between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) throughout 2022 heightened humanitarian needs and risks to civilians in northern Ethiopia. A November 2022 peace deal offers some hope: if it holds, it will bring an end to the conflict in Tigray.

Amin crouches down, holding the branches of the destroyed coffee tree.
Amin Abdrurhaman Ali, a coffee farmer, holding the branches of the coffee tree destroyed by the severe drought.
Photo: Mihiret Fekadu for the IRC

Humanitarian risks in 2023 

People risk starvation as ongoing drought worsens food insecurity

The United Nations estimates that 20 million people in Ethiopia are currently experiencing food insecurity, meaning they are unable to access or afford the food needed to live a healthy life. This will continue into 2023 and catastrophic conditions—where people are starving to death each day—could spread if aid is not immediately scaled up and seasonal rains are poor. 

In Oromia, limited access to safe drinking water due to the drought has also contributed to a cholera outbreak. This is particularly dangerous for children whose bodies have been weakened by insufficient food.

Fighting and conflict will continue to worsen situation

A peace deal to end hostilities in the northern Tigray region was announced in November 2022, providing some hope for the more than 5.2 million people in the region who remain in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. For now, it is unclear whether the peace deal will hold or humanitarian assistance will be able to ramp up quickly to meet the scale of the needs. 

Conflicts in other regions, particularly Oromia, Afar, and Benishangul-Gumuz, are also driving up needs and disrupting aid. The armed group al-Shabaab, which has largely operated in neighboring Somalia, clashed with security forces in Ethiopia’s Somali region in July 2022, which could add to the challenges facing Ethiopian authorities in 2023.

Kessa, 40, stands facing the camera in Elele, Somali region, Ethiopia.
“The drought has affected all of us severely," says Kessa, 40, from Elele district. “We used to have 405 goats, but now we just have ten. We are afraid to send our children to look after them and look for grass because many of our animals perish during the journey. We're not sure if our children, let alone our livestock, will make it back. We only have access to water once every four days, which is insufficient. And we're expecting the worst."
Photo: Martha Tadesse for the IRC

A weakened economy is making it even harder for the population to cope and afford enough food

Numerous crises—drought, conflict and the economic impacts of the war in Ukraine, and global economic conditions—are straining Ethiopian government resources, limiting what it can deploy to address the growing food insecurity crisis. 

On top of that, inflation reached a high of 37.7% in May 2022. While inflationary pressures have since eased to their lowest levels in 12 months, food prices remain high. The drought has also eroded people’s access to food, in part due to the high rate of livestock deaths, making it harder for families who rely on agriculture for income to afford enough food

Insufficient funding is preventing the required humanitarian response

Ethiopia’s drought response requires $1.66 billion. At the end of 2022, only 42% of this was funded, and UNICEF’s appeal for children remains only 38% funded. Only 12% of people in drought-affected areas have been reached with health services, and less than 30% with water, sanitation and hygiene assistance – all of which are critical in avoiding mass deaths during a drought and cholera outbreak.

An early grade student, actively learning how to read and spell words in a literacy class.

A student learns how to read and spell words in a literacy class during an IRC-led PlayMatters session at Tsore refugee  in Benishangul Gumuz. Photo: Derrick Taremwa for the IRC

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Somali refugee Zainab holds megaphone to raise awareness of women's rights

Zainab Bare fled violence in Somalia with her family and now lives in Helowyn refugee camp, where she helps raise awareness about women’s rights and IRC services available to survivors of abuse. Photo: Martha Tadesse for the IRC

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Niman Arab, Emergency Rapid Response Manager, talks with other residents in Somali region, Ethiopia.

Niman Arab (left), an IRC emergency rapid response manager in the Somali region. His work involves coordinating water trucking, the installation of new boreholes and generators with on-spot water delivery facilities and providing people with cash support. Photo: Martha Tadesse for the IRC.

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How is the IRC responding?

Since 2000, the IRC has provided a wide range of assistance for refugees living in camps and for Ethiopian communities throughout the country who have been affected by drought, flooding, conflict and COVID-19. In strong partnership with local organizations, we distribute cash and basic emergency supplies, including for women and girls, and build and maintain safe water supply systems and sanitation facilities. The IRC also supports government partners and community workers in primary health care clinics, constructs classrooms and trains teachers, and provides livelihoods-related training and job opportunities to youth and at-risk households. 

Learn more about the IRC’s Ethiopia response and get our latest crisis updates.

How can I help in Ethiopia?

Donate now to support the IRC's life-changing work in Ethiopia and worldwide. We are on the frontlines providing critical aid to crisis-affected people in more than 40 countries, including places on the 2023 Emergency Watchlist.

Read more about the top 10 crises the world can’t ignore in 2023, find out how the IRC selected these countries, and download the full 2023 Emergency Watchlist report for profiles of all 20 crisis countries on the IRC's list.